There are an estimated 300,000 children who are part of both irregular and regular armed forces worldwide as child soldiers. Africa hosts half that number and the increasing number is worrying as experts say the nature of conflicts is changing in the continent.
They say this phenomenon of warfare, i.e. the use of child soldiers emerged in the early 1980s, in Mozambique, and quickly swept through Africa and the whole world.
From the Mozambican experience rebel commanders all over the world learnt that children are the most fearless, loyal and could be easily manipulated, making them indomitable in wars.
Coming closer home, in 2004, just before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or CPA was signed between the Sudanese government and the then southern rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA, the number of child soldiers in Sudan was estimated at 17,000. The SPLA alone had between 2,500 and 5,000 child soldiers.
Prior to the CPA, a demobilization exercise was initiated in which the SPLA claimed to have demobilized over 16,000 children, but according to events on the ground the group continued to recruit and re-recruit child soldiers.
Since independence South Sudan has been marred by internal rebellions including David Yauyau’s South Sudan Democratic Front formed after he failed to secure a seat as an independent candidate for his Gumuruk–Boma constituency in Pibor County at the Jonglei State Assembly. But in 2014, Yauyau signed an accord with the government ending his rebellion and forming the Greater Pibor Administrative Area in 2014. The government would integrate his forces in the national army and they pledging to release child soldiers within their ranks.
Just last month, with the help of UNICEF, the group released about 250 child soldiers including a nine-year-old girl.
UNICEF says that the latest release brings the total number of children freed by the militia since January to 1,314. And they say, the children exchanged their weapons and uniforms for civilian clothes at a ceremony in Likuangole, a town in Pibor County in Jonglei State. However, it is not certain if releasing these children is a solution. In the current state, those released can easily be vulnerable and would be drawn back to the frontlines for protection and security purposes.
With the re-emergence of conflict in 2013, UNICEF says more than 12,000 children have since been recruited into armed groups.
In February, at least 89 boys were abducted by an armed group while sitting exams near Malakal in Upper Nile State. Boys older than 12 years of age were taken away by force, probably to join front-lines.
With children still in active combat both on the side of the rebels and militias allied to government, removing the scourge of child fighters from the conflict remains a difficult task.
We have lost more than 2 million people in the more than 20 year old civil war with Sudan. The International Crisis Group estimates that at least 50,000 people have been killed in the 2013 December conflict, while nearly two million people remain displaced, and the number keeps rising as fighting continues.
The war not only rips us off of development and lives, but also a future manifested in the use of children to fight wars, recovery from which will be a daunting task. Even after the children are released, reintegrating them into society and training them to respect the rule of law will be another challenge. In short, with all the ills that come with a war, I am yet to understand why young children should really be dragged into wars they know nothing about. What kind of future do we envision?

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